The Debate on Cell Phones and Cancer Just Took a Turn

If you have a compulsion to put your phone in another room when you sleep, or you’re a guy who worries about what the device in your pocket is doing to your nether regions, I’m sure you’re not alone. We often hear reports that cell phones can cause cancer and we react accordingly.

Recently published reports from a National Toxicology Program (NTP) study, which examined the potential for cell phone radiation to cause cancer in rats and mice, has reignited the debate. It’s also inflamed fears about a cell phone’s potential to do us harm. So, what did the NTP study conclude? Can cell phones cause cancer?

The Results of the NTP Study

Conclusions from the study, which involved exposing male and female rats and mice to cell phone radiation, highlighted an increased risk of tumors called malignant schwannomas of the heart in male rats. There was also ‘some evidence‘ of carcinogenic activity in the brain in the form of malignant glioma, and of pheochromocytoma in the adrenal medulla (part of the adrenal gland).

But, before you throw your cell phone out the window as though it’s a self-destructing device from a Tom Cruise film, there’s a few things to consider.

An American Cancer Society summary explains, ‘There was no increased risk among female rats or among male or female mice in the study. The doses of RF radiation in the study were also generally higher than those used in cell phones (ranging from 1.5 W/kg to 6 W/kg in rats, and 2.5 W/kg to 10 W/kg in mice), the animals’ entire bodies were exposed, and the amount of time they were exposed was longer than most people typically spend on the phone each day.’

In summary, exposing male and female rats and mice to incredibly long-term, high doses of cell phone radiation resulted in an increased risk of specific types of cancer in male rats only. So, at best, the study suggests that cell phone may impact health. But the risk is small and it’s still impossible to say for a certainty that it will cause cancer in humans. Furthermore, one would have to bathe themselves in close-quarter radiation for their entire lifetime.

What About Studies Involving Humans?

In a fact sheet called ‘Cell Phones and Cancer Risk’, the NIH’s National Cancer Institute highlights three large epidemiologic studies that have examined the possible association between cell phone use and cancer, namely, ‘Interphone’; the ‘Danish Study’; and the ‘Million Women Study’. The studies were either inconclusive for certain cancer types or there was no statistically significant association between cell phone use and the incidence of cancer in humans.

As for other smaller scale studies, according to the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, ‘A limited number of studies have shown some evidence of statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumor risks, but most studies have found no association.’

Do I Need to Be Worried?

Although research is ongoing, considering the entire body of evidence currently available, the short answer is probably not. The results of the NTP study suggest that there is some level of risk, but not enough to say that cancer will definitely, or even probably, result. The evidence is inconclusive, so there’s no need to freak out.

In relation to this matter, a statement from the US Food and Drug Administration concluded that, taken together, all of this research has ‘given us the confidence that the current safety limits for cell phone radiation remain acceptable for protecting the public health.’ So, for now, it’s business as usual.

Nevertheless, as the world becomes more and more saturated with devices that use radio frequency electromagnetic radiation, it is imperative that we thoroughly understand its potential impacts. Let the research continue.

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